'For My Torturer': An African Woman's Transformative Art of Truth, Justice and Peace-Making during Colonialism

By Narismulu, Priya | Journal of International Women's Studies, September 2012 | Go to article overview
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'For My Torturer': An African Woman's Transformative Art of Truth, Justice and Peace-Making during Colonialism


Narismulu, Priya, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

Against a range of injustices African women have made powerful challenges to structural, gender and repressive violence through their interventions in questions of justice, dialogue, creativity and transformation. This article addresses an activist's interventions against colonial oppression by examining gender as the central variable in the relationship between justice and activism in African women's creative literature. The poem 'For my Torturer, Lieutenant D ...' was written in prison by the Algerian activist Leila Djabal who navigated the silences and challenges of gender, age and national identity (postcolonial). It challenges the violence of colonial and patriarchal silencing to expose torture and rape by a prison official." Emerging from an abject position in a colonial jail the poet drew on the representational and allusive properties of poetry to heal and transform the role of victim so as to expose gross human rights abuses and hold colonial officials, the colonial state, and French culture to account. Predicated upon the recognition of very diverse audiences, the visionary poem invokes and explores emerging transitional justice and peace-making processes, decades before their formal appearance. It also demonstrates the value of creative communication strategies under conditions of extreme oppression and division. Using a Critical Theory lens with intersectional analysis, Djabali's text may be read as innovatively connecting individual testimony to the nascent national processes of transitional justice and peace-making. The work of Audre Lorde is used to interpret this bold and resourceful experiment in the generation of justice and transformation through literary art.

Keywords: African women's literature; anti-colonial resistance and transformation; gender and literary activism; transitional justice and peace-making; Critical Theory; intersectional analysis

Introduction

"... of course I am afraid, because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation, and that always seems fraught with danger.... fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation (Lorde, 1984, p. 42)."

Colonialism was accompanied by diverse structural, coercive and cultural forms of oppression, which has meant that most people in the world, and particularly African women, have experienced many forms of tyranny, including racism, sexism and underdevelopment. Despite all the injustices African women have played vital though largely unrecognized roles in various struggles, often addressing their own oppression and marginalization at the same time. Their refusal to accept oppression is apparent in their powerful responses to the challenges of political and gender transformation. Despite operating in crisis situations, often with very few resources, a number of women acted with powerful sense of their priorities and agendas to create new roles for women, citizens and leaders, and negating stereotypes of being passive, submissive or muted.

Drawing on gender as a central variable in the relationship between activism and creativity in African women's literature, the article examines how Leila Djabali's short poem records experiences of torture and rape, exposes a torturer's criminal practices, and challenges the oppression of the colonial regime. The poem also alerts fellow activists about what to expect in prison, about their options for challenging oppression; and alerts support groups in Algeria, France and other colonized and colonial countries. It also tries to educate torturers, colonial officials and settler colonial women about the real consequences of colonial oppression for themselves, their families, and the lives of their children. Demonstrating a range of engaged and transformative responses the poem also offers some surprising solutions to the stalemate of ongoing conflict.

In these ways the article addresses the centrality of gender to the political transformation of a society experiencing colonial oppression.

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